Since the site has already taken a very in-depth look at Thor, I don’t propose to spend too much time discussing the synopsis, preferring to spend more time on the 3D aspects of this disc which is, I feel, where the benefit will be, so I will just talk about a few personal thoughts and musings before moving on.
Ok, so what can I remember about Thor from the comics? Well, I remember a winged helmet, a large hammer, a black suit with blue pants and a huge red cape. And that’s about it. No inclination about his superhero origins, other than a vague association with Norse mythology. So the latest film adaptation from Marvel had little to live up to in that regard. But what I did know was that Thor was a demigod, near immortal with near unlimited power, and this makes him very hard to relate too. My favourite superhero was always Spiderman, not so much because of his abilities, but because of the guilt that drove him; it was a very human failing, and his existence in the ‘real’ world meant that he had to live within it, despite his powers. Thor, like Superman, was an alien and not part of the human race even though both have sworn to protect it. And due to their near limitless powers their respective foes were of equally vast magnitude. This, again, sets them apart from our world, since nothing here can harm them, it needs extraterrestrial involvement. So, how do we humanise their behaviour? The best way is to give them dilemmas; situations that involve peril not to themselves but to those around them – forcing choices and thus integrating decisions that we, the audience, can relate to. It’s a neat trick and is one that is still being used today.
Director Kenneth Branagh’s take on Thor’s origin story diverts slightly from the ‘established’ comic-book but still pays plenty of homage. Thor’s race, the Asgardians, are God like, and, indeed, were even worshipped as such by the Vikings, hence their mythology, but their real life is amongst the stars where they are the guardians of peace throughout their known universe. Thor is the son of the King, Odin, a noble and wise ruler, who is disappointed with his son’s youthful exuberance, or arrogance, at bringing the Asgardian army and that of the Frost Giants to the brink of war; and so banishes him to Earth with no powers – the difference being that in the film he has memories of himself and is not placed into the body and memories of an existing, partially disabled human medical student as in the comics, as well as Mjolnir, his Hammer, following him and not being discovered in a cave. However, the fact that humility is learnt is the defining characteristic of Thor regaining his powers for the good of mankind. For at the heart of it, this film is not about how mighty Thor is, but on the father son relationship and brotherly rivalry that most can relate to, and as such bring a very human element to the emotive structure of the narrative; and with that core, no matter how wild and fanciful the other elements become, the film can remain grounded.
Odin, the ruler of Asgard, father of Thor and adoptive father of Loki, is played by Anthony Hopkins who manages to imbue such an almighty character with both the strength and weakness of a beloved father and mighty ruler. As a warrior he commands respect, be that on the battle field, or when speaking to his people. His arrival after Thor’s abortive attempt at winning on the Frost Giants planet is like the coming of the apocalypse; all fire and brimstone – yet he never over plays the voice, but shows his immense power by holding back and speaking softly, trying to prevent out and out bloodshed with simple reason, because we know, when push comes to shove, Odin does not back down and will almost certainly come out on top. But when it comes to his sons, both natural and adopted, he is forced to make equally gruelling decisions, each one etched on the wrinkles of his well worn face. As much as he loves Thor’s bravado and spirit, he knows he is too arrogant, too much the bully, acting before thinking and that could spell disaster for his people. Thus he casts his son out without powers even though it tears his heart out. He does, however, give his son enough credit to allow Mjolnir, Thor’s mighty hammer, forged in the heart of a dying star, to follow and be reclaimable, should, if and when, Thor learns what it takes to become the great leader his father knows is in him.
It is during this time that we get to know and understand Loki. Found on the battlefield, Loki was brought to Asgard by Odin as a baby and raised as his own; but due to his very nature he is different; smaller, darker, without the Asgardian might, he relies on cunning (and mischief) to attain his goals. His allowing of the Frost Giants into Asgard just to disrupt his brothers coronation is both foolhardy and brilliant; and it sets in motions a chain of events that will see Thor’s banishment and his own inauguration to the throne, even at the behest of his ‘friends’. Tom Hiddleston imbues Loki with that sense of mischief and mayhem typical of a brilliant mind forced into cunning due to an overbearing family. He is heartless and jealous, failing to see the good in himself and how his life has been privileged, preferring to draw on the years of pent up anger and self loathing making him a formidable foe and one that knows Thor inside out, his strength and weaknesses. Known mainly for TV shows before this cinematic break, he was cast due to his friendship with the director (not an unusual turn of events) but it was a serendipitous choice as he is utterly convincing in the role. More so than that of the lead itself, I’ll wager.
So what of Thor? He is given life by Australian born actor Chris Hemsworth who is probably best known in his career as George Kirk, ill-fated father of James T. in the Star Trek re-boot, though you’d be hard pressed to recognise him since he has changed his entire appearance for the part of the God of Thunder. Sporting a mass of blond hair and perfectly sculpted body he looks every part like the Norse God, and when we first meet him (as an adult) he is full of that cock-sure attitude that comes with those born into money (or power). His willingness to dive into the fray with scant regard for his friends’ safety, secure in the knowledge that he is unbeatable, is undisputable arrogance. Right and wrong may have shades of grey but justice is as straight as an arrow and that is what drives Thor, unfortunately his execution is woefully thought out and his actions tip the balance of a fragile peace into war. Such action cannot go unpunished and it is this act that forced Odin’s hand.
These opening scenes neatly give us all the information we need to know about how the film is going to play out; Branagh does not shy away from the action, but uses it as a means to an end, by giving us the characterisation behind the Gods we understand their actions and can sympathise. We feel for Odin’s heartbreaking choice as we feel the anguish of Thor’s banishment. We’re just lucky that it was Earth that he was banished to, as it now moves the film along from ‘angry character study with the background of war’ to ‘fish out of water comedy’ in the blink of an eye and because we are invested in the characters we are happy to go along with it.
Our earthly protagonists are a very familiar bunch, Clark Gregg reprises his role as SHIELD Agent Coulson from the Iron Man films, trying to keep the Mjolnir landing site under wraps as well as closing down all research into the phenomena that saw its appearance in the first place. And Queen Amidala herself Natalie Portman takes the role of Jane Foster, originally the nurse who looked after Thor’s alter-ego in the comics, but now upgraded to an astrophysicist working on the fringes of the scientific community trying to prove the existence of an Einstein-Heisenberg Bridge (or wormhole to you and I), which, by coincidence, is the very method the Asgardians use to travel the cosmos, and thus sees Thor as physical proof of her findings. Portman is a fine actress and is well versed in playing ‘tortured’ parts, so it is great to see her here ‘enjoying’ such a frivolous part. She shows a natural comic timing and shares some brief but likable chemistry with Hemsworth as the two bond over lives/life’s work lost. It is no small part to their relationship that Thor makes the sacrifice he does to earn his way back to Asgard.
And what of the story itself? Well it’s very simple, single sentence stuff, but you know what? It simply does not matter. Branagh layers his characters with emotion and as such the story doesn’t need that much depth, that’s not to say it doesn’t explore some decent human themes, such as jealousy, betrayal, humility and love. But by cleverly holding such themes in the backdrop, bubbling away, keeping the story afloat, Branagh can throw action set piece after action set piece at the screen and still maintain a credible narrative. As such, his being chose to direct such a comic-book piece was an inspired choice and his vision elevates what could so easily have been mindless schlock to something that retains empathy and, crucially, re-watchability.
Oh, it’s not without its flaws, the pace is very brisk and the wrap up even more so, I think a little more time to breathe would have given a slightly better pace. But honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by Thor and, even as a huge advert for the up and coming Avengers film, I think it stands firmly by itself as a decent piece of film making and I look forward with enthusiasm to his next outing.